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December 13. 2012 11:43PM

Nonprofit group looks to buy Exeter's historic Ioka theater


A message was posted on the marquee in March to thank supporters who became members of the Ioka theater as efforts continue aimed at restoring the Exeter landmark and turning it into a community theater. (JASON SCHREIBER/Union Leader Correspondent)

EXETER - The Exeter Theater Company has until the end of March to raise $600,000 to purchase the historic Ioka theater after the group was unable to negotiate a long-term lease with its current owner.

In a letter to members of the theater company and supporters, Anthony Callendrello, chairman of the board of directors, said purchasing the building outright would give the organization total control of the downtown theater that closed in 2008.

The theater company is a nonprofit group charged with resurrecting the local landmark purchased at a foreclosure auction last December for $600,000 by Kensington Exeter LLC, a company owned by Kensington resident Alan Lewis.

Lewis brought the theater because he wanted it restored and operated as a community-run theater. The theater group originally said it was looking to lease the theater from Lewis for $1 a year for 99 years.

In his letter, Callendrello said the group has been "deep in negotiations" with Lewis over its future role in overseeing the theater that was built in 1915.

"Our initial hope was to arrange a favorable, long-term lease but it became clear that the terms the owner proposed would not allow us sufficient control of the property to raise the funds necessary for renovation. After months of discussion, consultation and compromise, we have moved on to a very different but in my opinion much more responsible and exciting path - purchasing the building outright," he said.

The theater company entered into an agreement with Kensington Exeter LLC for an option to purchase the Ioka for $600,000. The option period ends March 31.

In addition to the $600,000, another $4.6 million would need to be raised through a capital campaign to completely renovate and re-open the theater, Callendrello said.

Lewis could not be reached for comment.

The goal is to create a theater offering digital movies, independent film screenings, live music, stage performances, and special guest speaker events.

The renovations would include comfortable new seating, a balcony with private lounge, a completely new and flexible downstairs venue, all served by catering and full bar services, according to the theater company's business plan.

The group has raised a total of $140,000 and has generated 1,400 paid members who signed up after Lewis bought the Ioka and insisted that the community find a way to show its support.

"I am confident we will reach the goal of this campaign and that the Ioka will once again be home to the best film, live music, and theater that the Seacoast has to offer," Callendrello said.

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Jason Schreiber may be reached at jschreiber@newstote.com.



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